My first real foray into the world of local rail transit was my interest in improving Amtrak Cascades service to Portland – I had waited behind freight trains plenty on various trips, and I started trying to figure out why our local intercity rail service was so unreliable and slow. I found many projects listed by WSDOT as ways to improve Cascades, and one caught my eye – Point Defiance Bypass. Through a partnership with Sound Transit to extend Sounder to Lakewood, new track would offer a more direct route from Tacoma southward, removing passenger trains from the freight snarl, and cutting five minutes off my trip – more than any other single project offered.

In the intervening time, Central Link has gone from groundbreaking all the way to being open.

No, really. When I first heard about the Sound Transit portion of this project, I don’t even think that there had been any neighborhood meetings for Link yet. It’s been that long.

And a small band of people in Tacoma want to delay finishing Sounder even longer – for a new reason, almost like the last, but just different enough to spur a new round of editorials about ‘destroying’ a part of Tacoma that’s mostly a couple of surface parking lots and a freeway overpass. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself. In the upper right, Freighthouse Square, where Sounder currently terminates. In the lower left, the curve of the old railway to be reused. In between? A handful of businesses, empty lots, an interstate highway. A beautiful urban village to be ruined by a train.

Sound Transit will build an overpass for Sounder – and use earth embankments on either side of South Tacoma Way. The latest opposition tactic is to demand a concrete structure with posts instead – to offer a dry place for the homeless to sleep at night. They wring their hands at light rail’s neighborhood-friendly concrete pylons, and compare to their future pile of dirt, when of course Link was no different – it used earth embankments in several places as well.

Do I seem sarcastic? That’s because this is a farce. These are anti-transit activists drumming up opposition to Sound Transit through typical fear, uncertainty and doubt. They know Pierce County doesn’t have adequate transit service yet, and they know that if Lakewood gets regular rail service, a pretty large group of people will start realizing how useful this is.

Two completed stations sit waiting for Sounder service. This will offer help for commuters into both Tacoma and Seattle. The construction area is not walkable or pedestrian friendly, the benefit of transit service far outweighs any loss. Please, please stop listening to these people.

158 Replies to “Editorial: You’ve Had Quite Long Enough, Get It Done”

  1. I think your facetious derision of that part of Tacoma is completely off-base:

    1) That’s the prime candidate for TOD in Tacoma, with a Sounder station and two Tacoma Link stations.
    2) Tacoma is even updating the zoning in that part of the city.
    3) You know what part of Seattle looked nearly exactly like that ten years ago? South Lake Union. Parts of it still do.

    So you’re all for pedestrians and TOD until someone runs into something you don’t like and then it’s “Your neighbourhood sucks, screw you, you’re getting TOD-killing, half-mile long pedestrian obstacle”.

    1. No, look at their argument. The only thing they want is posts instead of an earth embankment. That’s their latest, and it’s been going on for five years. This isn’t about TOD at all, the difference between the two options has very little impact on TOD. This is the new trendy way to be against extending Sounder.

      There are another several blocks of one story buildings and surface parking between that and downtown. The last real estate boom didn’t touch them.

      Tacoma Link is only as useful as its connections. This is chicken and egg – without access to Freighthouse Square for commuters into Tacoma, the Tacoma Link users for new TOD won’t exist. Ridership on that line is flat.

      1. This reminds me of how Tukwila added millions of to the Central Link project to protect it’s own Very Special Place (aka Hwy 99). It’s just about as bad as provincialism gets to delay or even prevent service to the next town downstream for what is probably very little gain – and tentative gain at that. Using South Lake Union as a precedent is also pretty specious. Lets not forget that the businesses there ponied up a lot of cash for the streetcar line and the city is pouring even more into a wide variety of improvements. If Tacoma feels so very strongly about this area, it’s time for them to fund the additions they are asking for (and send a box of chocolates to Lakewood to apologize for further delay).

      2. Exactly. Through all of this, Tacoma has kept saying “we want, we want” but they haven’t offered a dime.

      3. I believe part of Tukwilla’s gambit was to try to force routing via Southcenter.

        The situation in Tacoma is a bit different. I don’t get the idea that the city itself has any real problem with the idea of D to M. They did have a problem with the at-grade crossing of Pacific which has been addressed.

      4. Whatever their argument, that doesn’t justify the derision you’ve paid to that neighbourhood.

        You can say “an earthen berm isn’t going to ruin that neighborhood more than posts would”, and that’s an argument. I don’t really know whether posts are better or worse, it does seem Sound Transit is more comfortable with them. But saying “Tacoma clowns, your neighbourhood is crap so shut up already!” That’s off-base.

      5. It’s not a neighborhood any more than Aurora at 175th is a neighborhood. There just happen to be businesses there.

      6. Can you understand that their argument is “These guys don’t care about our neighborhood! don’t just run roughshod over our neighbourhood!” and your answer is “fuck your neighbourhood, it sucks!”.

        You are justifying their positions with your condecension, and I’m not sure you’re realizing it. Or maybe you do and don’t care.

        Either way, Aurora at 175th is not a short walk from downtown Tacoma, and is not connected by commuter rail to Seattle or Streetcar to downtown Tacoma.

      7. Seriously Ben, carefully read their article and see the criticism that Seattle-centric Sound Transit doesn’t care about Tacoma and think again whether your “that part of Tacoma sucks” argument doesn’t completely justify their position.

      8. But your argument is VERY Tacoma-centric. As much as you criticize the “message” to Tacoma, you are sending an equally bad message to communities south of Tacoma that equates to it being more important that this area receive the highest cost alternative than Lakewood getting any service at all. Guess what? Every block of every community that saw Link being built in Seattle has sacrificed something to see it happen. Considering that Tacoma ALREADY got soundtransit to basically double the budget over the original at-grade alignment, I would say that Tacoma has not done half-bad here.

      9. Andrew, I am reading. Sound Transit has made big improvements to the design of the connection, and if the city and residents want more, they should have chipped in ages ago.

        Tokyo doesn’t seem to have any problem with TOD, and they have trains running through the densest parts of the city.

      10. About 12 million people work in Tokyo and about 130,000 in tacoma. That’s two orders of magnitude.

      11. “Whatever their argument, that doesn’t justify the derision you’ve paid to that neighbourhood.”

        1) it’s not “their” neighborhood. The opponents just own land and businesses in the area.

        2) it’s right next to 2 noisy freeways, and a huge interchange. Nothing like S. Lake Union.

        3) look at their arguments: the Dome District activists want to preserve parking, and a wildlife corridor (which doesn’t exist). The notion of a “pedestrian oriented community” is a total ruse. Just last year, the same batch of opponents was trying to get ST to put that train in a huge ditch. And we’re supposed to believe earthen berms are worse than a massive excavation?

        It’s naive to take these non-Tacoma residents at their word.

      12. Concur. This is a really silly argument by those who either are outright opposed to expanded rail transit, or just plain oppose all change.

        The really sad thing is that at the main street crossing closest to FHS the embankments they oppose so vehemently aren’t even that high – here the street is also being sunk so it really is just as much of a new underpass as it is an overpass. Viewed from the neighborhood level, ST’s embankments just won’t be that massive.

        Further to the southeast the rail route will continue to climb – but here it is mid-block and often behind buildings, and the views from here are blocked by a massive elevated road structure anyhow. Blame the freeway culture of the 50’s/60’s for that.

        It’s time for these people to either get out of the way or be moved aside. If they want to move their city forward, then they should “put their big-boy pants on” and start acting like it.

        But, of course, I guess that is the point – they don’t want to move their city forward, and they are willing to punish the entire region (via ST) and the entire state (via Amtrak) to see that their city doesn’t move forward.


      13. Mixed in with the parking lots and low-rise buildings that really aren’t worth writing home about are quite a lot of nice older wooden industrial buildings of roughly the same age as Freighthouse Square. While I’d like to see a real neighborhood emerge around the various transit stations in the area. I hope at least some of the older buildings can be preserved.

        Another issue is the Dome itself and the huge parking garage that is part of the Tacoma Dome transit center aren’t really conducive to TOD. Still I see no reason things can’t turn around a bit in the area like they have up in the Theater district or around UW Tacoma.

        In any case I don’t think a viaduct vs. a berm is going to make much of a difference. If anything a viaduct will look more industrial. There is also the concern the area around a viaduct might be perceived as unsafe particularly if there is a lot of trash or it attracts transients. A nicely landscaped berm would bring a bit of green to the area and wouldn’t have those problems.

      14. The project has been evolving for some time. The latest accepted change was the crossing of Pacific Avenue compromise involving a mixed overpass/underpass solution and creating the need for a berm but avoidinga surface level crossing of Downtown’s busiest street.

        Cost estimates of the two options are questionable – what once was a 20 million upgrade is now down to 500k, and likely will be less at the end of the day due the greater need for ‘unplanned’ utility relocation cost overruns.

        The alternative design that has been put together was led by the likely next Mayor, Architect Jim Merritt, and is nothing but constructive. Sound Transit and it’s prima donna staff and prima donna supporters like Scheindelman.

      15. Pylons vs. Beams –

        Pylons have a greater engineering cost then beams, especially with the weight of heavy rail, it was the judgment of folks more knowledgable than I to proceed with the post and beam approach.

    2. And remember that the Seattle Streetcar is newer than Tacoma Link, so if Tacoma Link’s not spurring development there, it’s clear there’s another factor necessary.

      1. Yeah it’s Tacoma and not Seattle. Just because it doesn’t spur development over night doesn’t mean it’s not going to. Seattle and Tacoma aren’t interchangable. It’s a smaller city and things happen a lot more slowly.

      2. In six years during the largest construction boom in our lifetimes, we saw zero in that area. There aren’t even complete sidewalks. It’s not an issue of speed, it’s an issue of even trying – and they weren’t.

      3. First off, “zero” isn’t completely correct: Here’s some pedestrian-oriented development in that area.

        Second, that place hasn’t yet been upzoned! How would TOD happen when the area hasn’t been upzoned? Even in the “largest construction boom in our lifetimes”, you need zoning potential, wouldn’t you say? Or do you think TOD builders are just going to say “law be damned! I’m building a 16 story condo tower here!”?

        Third, obviously development is going to go to the most prime locations first, right? So Downtown got the first waves of development and that part is next. Just like in SLU, the prime locations (like those near denny and westlake) were developed first, the slightly worse parts (nearer the middle of the area) were next, then nearer the lake, etc.

        I agree that’s not a nice urban neighborhood, but you can’t just say “you suck, you get shit”.

      4. They’ve had six years, plus longer when Tacoma Link was in planning, and they still haven’t upzoned it – that’s my point.

        And a one story building (which I believe replaces an earlier one story building) several blocks away, directly across the street from the Sounder station, doesn’t really make me think Tacoma Link’s doing much on its own.

        It’s not the developers here. Nobody’s been calling for TOD in that area until it became expedient as a way to fight Sounder.

      5. That’s not accurate, though. The city of tacoma (who is generally happen with the berm) still wants TOD. Tacoma didn’t upzone because they had huge vacancies after weyerhauser left (and they may again if Russel investments leaves).

        It’s pointless continuing this conversation. You don’t want to understand how your derision on that neighborhood in fact weakens your argument and strengthens theirs, and would rather argue about it the precise reasons why TOD hasn’t appeared there. Whatever.

      6. It seems to me that you’d rather get offended about me pointing out how desolate that part of Tacoma is than address the fact that it’s not going to change without bringing more people into downtown.

      7. Upzoning is easy — just change the zoning and let private enterprise take over (if it wants to). The fact that the leaders in Tacoma haven’t even taken the first step to allow change in this “neighborhood” speaks volumes to how much they want change.

        It’s effectively zero cost to upzone – if they wanted change in this neighborhood they would have already done it. But I’d bet dollars-to-donuts that these same people who are against ST and the D to M project are also against zoning changes because it would change the “light industrial character” of the neighborhood (or something like that).

        Sort of shades of our SoDo or Ballard/Burke-Gilman bike path debate, except in Tacoma the obstructionists have completely shut down progress.

        Time to move forward and push this project through. “No change, no way” aint going to a modern city make.

      8. From my experience as a planning commissioner and city council member, I have to say, anyone who claims “upzoning is easy” is simply delusional.

        Land use changes are one of the most contentious and difficult decisions a city can make. They involve countless sessions of public hearings, revisions, challenges, coordination with other jurisdictions, growth management review, etc. They often span election cycles, leading to changes in the faces at the table.

        Upzoning in Washington State’s land use law system is inherently slow, tedious, and uncertain unless there’s an overwhelming mandate for it.

      9. I think that is exactly the point – upzoning is easy where there is the will or the consensus, but what we have here is neither. In fact, they haven’t made an attempt to even try to upzone, nor has there been any real debate about the issue of upzoning.

        Stated another way: It’s not that Tacoma is trying and there is a lack of consensus, it is that Tacoma isn’t trying and they haven’t even gotten to the point of even trying to come up with a consensus.

        These people are just trying to stop any and all ST designs to stop all change and keep this “neighborhood” stagnated. ST shouldn’t listen to them and should get this project moving.

      10. Upzoning takes more than consensus — the system is designed to go slow, to force prolonged discussion and repeated approval at mutliple levels. Consensus alone can’t overcome minority opposition if that opposition is well energized and organized. That’s intentional, it’s part of living in a republic instead of a democracy.

      11. What more upzoning do you want? you’ve got heights to 225 and mixed use in the Tacoma Dome parking lots! True the city really should move forward with a public private partnership here. But they also have the Le May museum breaking ground this year in the south lots.

        And the zoning in downtown is already quite permissive– including the warehouse district which have heights of 100 feet and lots of FAR.

        Also during the boom years- there was a lot of downtown development in Tacoma- much of it townhousing as well as multifamily housing on the waterfront.

        Why condemn them as do nothings so they deserve a poorly designed transit alignment??! Its obnoxious to claim that this neighborhood sucks – as a transit advocate , and pro-smart growth why would you want to negatively impact the center of their downtown where we are all hoping lots of people will choose to live?

      12. I have yet to see evidence that this is poor design. The alternative suggested is nearly identical, but will cause very high expense for expansion later.

      13. FWIW, the Greater Dome District is about as far as you’d want to go witn a Northward commute, on transit or driving. I live within a 20 minute walk and use the hub when I can. Tacoma is overbuilt with Condos right now along the waterfront and the historically desirable northern downtown sections.

        Most of the ‘spurred’ growth in the area is the UW-T, students parking in the garage and ‘commuting’ into the campus.

  2. Here’s the report from Sound Transit if anyone wants to read it before forming an opinion:

    Let me just say that the viaduct may be a better solution than the berm, but it should have been brought up years ago. ST has been doing community meetings on this project for years, it seems the “post and beam” people are a little late to the party and maybe the train has left the station. Sorry for two cliches in a row. I spent a lot of time driving though that area in the 90’s, mostly going to and from South Tacoma Way, and I wouldn’t really classify the area affected by the berm as a neighborhood. And I don’t really see how the berm would preclude TOD in the area near Freighthouse Square, there are countless parcels in the Dome District and south downtown that will probably be redeveloped first.

    1. Yes. It’s probably true that the viaduct would be better in the long run (as long as they did something interesting with the space underneath) – but you know what? When a developer wants to build an eight story building next to the berm, they can build a viaduct to get the space they need. Or maybe WSDOT will add a track later and need to build a viaduct to fit it in the space. This isn’t permanent.

      1. Ehhh I agree with your general argument but you’re definitely not going to win by telling people this isn’t a permanent solution… If they really are going to replace the berm with a viaduct in a couple decades, it’s much cheaper in the long run to just build the viaduct than build the berm then tear it down and replace it with a viaduct.

      2. We’re not building a 12 car system for Link, either. Link isn’t permanent. But it would be a waste to do it now.

      3. I would definitely beg to differ. Link is the system that we decided to go with and it’s here to stay. Maybe we’ll bury the Rainier Valley segment and get new cars at some point that can go faster, but this is the technology that we will always be using.

      4. The other issue with the berm besides development is a green corridor in the area that will likely be used as an important trail link between the Dome and the Waterfront as well as all of Pierce County’s major trails.

        The arguement about homeless sleeping under the tracks is specious – consider for example the ST proposed pedestrian underpass at ‘A’ street. This underpass to nowhere provides great access to a freeway onramp – historically the area of a very large encampment.

    2. I read the report, thank you for posting it. I wish this information were available on the Sound Transit website, it would inspire more confidence.

      May I point out that the post and beam recommendation is mentioned several times as an early recommendation in that very same report?

      Just letting you know. Doesn’t look like it came late to the game at all.

      There is a lot of good information in this report and it is far more persuasive than the above poorly researched and insulting blog post. Had Ben constructed a well thought out piece incorporating the issues raised in this report I think he’d have been more persuasive.

  3. Alright, I’ll add my 2 cents to the project.

    Tacoma and this group have delayed this project for far to long. They have had their say, the plan has been modified to accommodate them and now they don’t like this design as construction is drawing near. Delay at this point could push the project back another 4 to 8 years. Can we afford that? Sure, if we strip the funding for extending Tacoma Link. What’s that you say? You want to kill the extension of Link? Guess what? There will simply be another loud outcry from the same people.

    Fine, so let’s settle this now. We’ll use the earthen berm, close E 26th Ave and build a lovely park instead, with the tracks fenced off for safety of course. It’ll “spark” this urban village that they all desire down there. Wait.. this won’t happen neither because the City of Tacoma has no drive or incentive to do it. The Dome District is nothing more than a night club, a diner, the 20-50 varying homeless folks whom reside under I-705 and who all tend to graffiti earthen embankment that Tacoma Rail uses for their Mountain Division, a gas station, a autoparts store, a car wash, and a candy factory.

    Do tell me how this will create an “urban village”, lush redevelopment, a mini Pearl District as some would like. This region will never, ever be like that until the City of Tacoma steps up and cleans up the “Downtown”. The club district on Hilltop is cleaner than Downtown and the Dome District is! How is a developer desire building anything there when there are more fruitful locations? They can talk about re-zoning until they turn blue.. talk is cheap, action isn’t.

    Furthermore, Tacoma Link’s ridership is flat and has been for several years now. It is a free streetcar between the Theater District and the Tacoma Dome. It transports more homeless than anything else. There is a reason why they have AIR FRESHER in the vehicles! What little development has happened isn’t what has happened in ANY OTHER city, regardless of size. They built a new convention center and a new hotel… name anything else?

    So yes, I fully agree with Ben. The post and beam idea is far too expensive and too late at this process. If the City of Tacoma wants to make the other party happy, build a park and a trail, make it “sculpture park like” if they must. Another “museum” of sorts will help Tacoma grow more, right? Afterall, the City of Tacoma has no problem giving money away for a new auto museum.

  4. Ok guys

    We need to have a discussion about Tacoma here and let’s admit first that we haven’t been down that way enough on this blog and the Seattle press such as the Seattle Times pretty much ignores our southern neighbor completely. Other than complaining about the unquestionably tortuously slow pace of the Tacoma to Lakewood stretch of Sounder which makes Eduard Munch’s ‘Scream’ look patient by comparison, and the equally tedious pace of the Point Defiance bypass, we haven’t talked nearly enough about Tacoma here on the STB.

    I think a lot is happening down there which is positive. First off, downtown Tacoma is going through a splendid transformation these days with some lovely restoration of its downtown core which has led to some magnificent rework of Tacoma’s past into a present of new University buildings and restaurants and museums. The Foss waterway looks better than it has ever done, the D-Street overpass looks great, the glass museum looks unique and coming up in Tacoma’s future are the world’s largest car museum (Le May should be breaking ground on this soon) and an interesting looking housing development called Point Ruston. Oh, and let’s not forget that it has one of the most fabulously looking schools I have ever seen (Stadium High School).

    Now, much of this new development has been spurred by Link down there and from Freighthouse Square through into downtown, we can see lots of TOD revival of old Tacoma and Link has had a major role to play in this.

    I agree with Ben that outside of the Freighthouse Square are some areas much in need of TOD, but hopefully the new Le May Car Museum will be set down close to the Square and this in itself will spur some needed rejuvenation of that area. Yes it does look like South Lake Union used to, but development will arrive to that area because Tacomans are rightly proud of what they have achieved. When I first moved to Seattle in 1998 and first visited Tacoma, I wanted to leave in a hurry as I thought it was awful, but after some fruitless years in Los Angeles and we returned to Seattle in 2003, I revisited Tacoma and was amazed by its progress since I first went there. From the evidence of its downtown, it was a city that clearly believes in itself and has a plan.

    However, we can still make suggestions and yes, the area around Freighthouse Square clearly needs some TLC. I actually think the bus platform area is ugly, but the Sounder and Link platform is great. I believe that we need to dramatically improve the Amtrak Station as it is clearly one of the ugliest stations I have ever seen, but as I understand it, once the Lakewood section and full Point Defiance bypass are completed, then Amtrak will move itself to Freighthouse Square and all should be well.

    I also think that some of the roads leading up the hill to the Stadium High School need some serious clean up work. A beautiful layered and landscaped park sloping down to the freight railroad tracks and the Foss would take care of that jungle of blackberries and briars that currently litter the hillside. Great potential there.

    I don’t want to digress. No, I don’t care if Tacoma gets a earthberm or some concrete structure so long as Sound Transit adds some usually nice art work to the mix to symbolize progress, presence and hope for future. As with Ben, I don’t want to see debate replacing needed action. Andrew you said in an earlier post “don’t ask, just do” and I think this applies here too, but perhaps to spur this discussion we need to couch this in terms of helping to “progress Tacoma” to borrow an ugly phrase from the erstwhile Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. Sorry for bringing her up here guys but Tacoma has promise and the Tacoma to Lakewood rail link along with the whole of the Point Defiance bypass are integral parts of how we keep Tacoma moving forward and building on its existing progress.


    1. I agree. Tacoma has always been treated like the ugly step child. They got HOV lanes last before Seattle, Bellevue and Everett. They basically get the left-overs of everything, Tacoma is an after thought. No one really cares about Tacoma, just Seattle and Bellevue. The City of Bellevue is demanding a Tunnel for the Central Link spur in their downtown, and everyone agrees that a tunnel is best for Bellevue in the downtown area they just need to come up with money to pay for it. (Don’t ask Kemper Freeman :-)

      Tacoma does not want earthen berms in that area because the LeMay Car Museum will be located right next to the tracks, as well as other TODs. So basically the Dome District wants Sound Transit to make the Sounder track ROW look like it is a part of a city center neighborhood instead of an industrial center neighborhood. Is that too much to ask for? Maybe Tacoma can start a LID in the Dome District to help cover the extra cost. That area is going to be a HUGE tourist attraction, once the Lemay Car Museum is built within 2 years. 500,000 people a year visiting the museum and passing by a Sound Transit’s earthen berm is not a good image for Tacoma, especially in magazines or as a selling point for TODs. Sound Transit should make the tracks blend into the surrounding area instead of it sticking out. We in Seattle or Bellevue would demand that we get the best design, so why shouldn’t Tacoma.

      For the longest time the people of Tacoma thought that their worth was less than that of Seattle and Bellevue. Now the people of Tacoma demand to be treated not better than Seattle and Bellevue but just as equally good as Seattle and Bellevue. Could it be that the City of Seattle and Bellevue are intimidated by Tacomas revitalization and the new image Tacoma wants the world to see, not what is has heard or remembers.

      Tacoma’s time will come I say 2015 WATCH OUT!!!

      SORRY for being so long winded, but I do think Tacoma has been beaten up with an ugly stick for too long. It has taken a long time for Tacoma to see its potential, but now that it has we should all support the City of Tacoma.
      Remember if Tacoma looks good, Seattle, Bellevue and surrounding communities look good as well and vice versa.

      1. An open missive to Tacoma transit malcontents: your inferiority complex isn’t very flattering. You got the first ST express buses in the region. You got the very first Sounder line in the region. You got the first light rail line in the state. You have the largest park and ride in the state (funded mostly from Soundtransit). Please do not cry to me about the horrible abuse you have suffered from the region and ST. Not only have you racked up these wonderful accouterments, but you have driven the direction of the last 2 soundtransit ballot measures. I love your city, but if you ever want to get over your abused mentality, you might want to consider this crazy concept of regionalism. In terms of comparing yourself to Bellevue – please! You received your first rail transit in 2000 – oh, only 23 years before this city you feel so slighted by. In every subarea we all pay the same tax for ST – AND, in every subarea, there will be sacrifices to make.

      2. Sorry, but this is just bothering me, it’s Sound Transit, two words, not one. And I agree, Tacoma does get a lot more than it thinks it does. Also, Kevin talks about the fact that Bellevue is demanding a tunnel, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to get it, at least on ST’s dime. If they are going to have a tunnel (which I hope they do), they’re going to have to pay for it themselves.

      3. The fact is Tacoma is loosing jobs. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I think more people work in downtown Bellevue than downtown Tacoma. And when Russel leaves, well…

        Tacoma can’t be treated equally to Seattle because it isn’t equal. There was a time when the region was called ‘Seattle/Tacoma’ but those days are gone. Tacoma is a bedroom community. It’s a suburb of Seattle.

      4. Most bedroom communities don’t have a large number of pre-WWII walkable neighborhoods or an urban form that was largely laid out prior to the dominance of the automobile. Most bedroom communities also don’t have a major port on their front doorstep.

        True I think downtown Tacoma isn’t much of an employment center compared to Bellevue or Overlake anymore but Tacoma is still the third largest city in the state. It is also more of an employment center and economic engine than the average Seattle bedroom community.

      5. Lot’s of 5000 foot early auto era lots here, just like in Seattle, and lots of great craftsman style houses.

        FWIW, our port has yours beat cold.

        As to Spokane, we aren’t that far out of second…

      6. “An open missive to Tacoma transit malcontents: your inferiority complex isn’t very flattering. You got the first ST express buses in the region. You got the very first Sounder line in the region. You got the first light rail line in the state.”

        Good point, grant. But, did you ever notice that the more you give to the public, the more they demand?

        The inferiority complex practised by Mr. Callaghan is laziness, plain and simple. It’s a lot easier to blame Seattle for their problems than to actually tackle them head on…

      7. The berm of doom won’t be visible from the proposed LeMay museum. The berm begins underneath of I-705 and extends west to approximately South C Street.

        As far as getting the best design, I think Tacoma is. You can see the latest plan in the PDF that I linked to above. ST and the City of Tacoma have spent years and years hammering out this plan and the cost has ballooned from $40 million to now well over $100 million. What more can be expected? There has to come a time when the parties involved say that it’s as good as it’s going to get and move on with it.

      8. What on earth do people have against earthen berms?

        They’re normally considered *more* attractive than viaducts, and they’re cheaper to maintain.

        Unless there’s some serious plan to put shops *UNDER* the train line, there is no need to build a viaduct. If there is a serious plan to fill in the space under the viaduct with businesses, perhaps those proposed businesses would be interested in paying for it.

      9. This is, by the way, quite a low berm by transit standards. Because the road is being depressed, it’s rather less than one story high, and its upper end is well below, because the rail line must cross under, the nearby *enormous* highway viaduct, which is far more of a visual problem.

      10. If Tacoma wanted to do this partnership thing, maybe they should have done that five years ago.

  5. A broader point worth discussion (I think) is where exactly does an agency like Soundtransit simply walk away from a project? Where exactly does one say that this has become far more expensive than the benefits could possibly justify? I think that these folks in Tacoma are testing that limit and coming dangerously close to the answer.

    To put things in perspective, Soundtransit is proposing only 10 trips per DAY in this segment (yes, that’s right, 10 trips; source: – pages 103-104). Lets be incredibly generous and assume that at some point in the next 20 years Amtrak offers another 20 trips per day. That’s only 30 trips per day – For all those pissed off at Seattle-centrism consider that Spokane, Lander, Holgate, and Royal Brougham streets in the heart of the region not only see those 30 trips but raise it the additional 8 sounder trips + ALL freight traffic. The point I am trying to make here is that on the relative merits of grade separation, Tacoma has already scored a coup in demanding ANY grade separation at all.

    Another point that the post-and-beam contingent seems to totally ignore – Soundtransit, as I understand, STILL does not have the funds to build even the berm. Whether they will admit it or not, the post-and-beam folks are throwing the baby out with the bathwater in that if they force Soundtransit into agreeing in principle to this expense, the project will probably be shelved for the foreseeable future. As Ben mentioned above, the alternative would be to poach funds for Tacoma Link extension. If the whole point of post-and-beam is to preserve TOD, I think it would be ironic to rob the bank of funds to extend Link to areas uphill in Tacoma that are probably far more ripe for TOD than the space between tracks and ramps.

    1. There’s not really a TOD value to post and beam. That’s the biggest problem with this debate – the anti-transit people have simply said there is. Don’t just accept it.

      You’re missing the other ten Amtrak trips. You’re also missing the extra ST2 Sounder trips, and the additional Amtrak trips that would come after the project was complete. Right now, we can’t add more Amtrak trips *because* we don’t have this bypass.

    2. There will only be 8 Amtrak Cascades trips daily over the bypass. The Coast Starlight cannot make the grade up to FHS or the bypass. It will still use the tunnel. And ST2 plans on 10 trips/day up the bypass. The others will terminate at FHS.

      1. Is it beyond the realm of possibility that the Coast Startlight would switch to using Talgo equipment? They could use the higher Talgo speed limits in the Cascade corridor then. And if not, would there have to be two Amtrak stations in Tacoma?

      2. Are you sure the Coast Starlight won’t make it up the grade? That would make it kind of hard to move the Tacoma Amtrak depot to FHS.

  6. I agree that it is important not to break up the Dome District over there, as it has a lot of TOD potential. However, the berm will not do that! It is my understanding that the street grid will stay connected except for at A St, which will still be open to pedestrians and bicycles. With the berm, the neighborhood will keep all of its potential with no harm done and hopefully when we get out of the recession it can be redeveloped into something nicer! And it’s not like ST is not spending anything on Tacoma while they’re spending a ton on the other cities; this 1.2 mile project is costing $150 million, which is a lot, especially for commuter rail. I hope that they just let this get finally built. Once it’s in place, I’m sure everyone will be glad it’s there!

  7. Just to throw some things out there… Tacoma has gotten its fair share of “new” Sound Transit projects. We got a nice terminus to the states first commuter rail system, some of the first “ST Express” service, and the states first light rail segment. I’m willing to give critics the Sounder service, but the first ST Express service was made up of routes already served by Pierce Transit, and frequency didn’t improve that much when Sound Transit started paying for it. The states first “light rail” is a seemingly useless trolly that only serves high school and college students, and davita workers during rush times and congests more than it eases traffic in downtown.

    The construction boom brought more than just a convention center to downtown, it brought two condo developments to the Foss Waterway (one of which currently has less than 13 residents as of June) and a “green” parking garage turned office building. There has also been countless projects that have fallen through in every part of downtown, especially in the Dome District. Its not that projects haven’t been attempted, they just haven’t been acted on or money falls through because of the economic crisis.

    As for the berm, BOTH sides haven’t tried hard enough. Many citizens are criticizing Sound Transit for not listening, but more need to criticize the elected city officials who didn’t try to get something different earlier. I honestly don’t care either way, berm or post and beam. I used to work in the area close to the Amtrak station and used to take the Tacoma Link often. That neighborhood is going to need a lot more than some new museum and a new Amtrak station to save it. It wouldn’t just be homeless using the shelter of a post and beam structure, it would be a catalyst for the sale and use of drugs and as well as a new center for prostitution in the city. A berm might cut off part of the neighborhood, but that neighborhood can’t be more than a couple blocks wide and is surrounded by two freeways and railroad tracks. I would rather see something done soon, whichever design it is.

    On a side note, the Lakewood and South Tacoma stations are nice, but I doubt they will be used much. A car is required when living in Lakewood, I don’t see that many people driving to a station to take an hour plus train trip to Seattle. The South Tacoma station is situated between lower income housing, a business district centralized around car dealerships, and a large industrial area. I could be wrong, but i can’t see that many people using it.

    The bypass is important, and everybody who can/will use it should pony up for it. Does anyone know if Tacoma Rail is chipping in to help those companies who currently use the rail line in the Nalley Valley? Everybody from the fed, the state, the city of Tacoma, and Sound Transit should be paying for track and street crossing improvements and get it done soon.

    1. Far too tired to quibble too much, but ST taking over the Tacoma Express routes was charity to be sure. They might be #1 or sometimes #2 in ST’s average daily ridership ranking, but they also very, very, very expensive to operate and rank pretty low there. If Pierce transit were still operating them, you can bet that there would be little to no local service left.

      1. The demand is clearly there for transit service between Pierce County and King County employment centers. The routes may be expensive to operate, but that is true for most of the Sound Transit Express Bus services as they are long-distance commuter bus routes which are never cheap to operate. If anything you could argue the ST service to Pierce county serves as an economic engine as it enables more people in Pierce County to work in King County.

        I will agree that ST taking over those routes likely saved Pierce Transit from worse financial problems and prevented large fare increases and service cutbacks on the express service.

        Sound Transit’s mandate is to provide regional service which the Pierce County to King County express routes clearly are.

    2. “but the first ST Express service was made up of routes already served by Pierce Transit, and frequency didn’t improve that much when Sound Transit started paying for it.”

      Beg to differ, lavarock. The ST service is more frequent, features much more comfortable buses, and runs earlier and later in the day. Which is why ridership spiked when ST took over from PT.

      Furthermore, the 590s service is extremely expensive to operate, as long-haul service with limited stops. If PT were still operating that run, they would have to scale it way back given current revenue issues…or cut a lot of local service to keep it running.

      As for the “useless” trolley – notice how many more people use this service than the free bus which preceeded it.

  8. I’m just struggling to understand how post and beam is somehow better and more desirable than an earthen berm. Post and beam is not a very attractive design. I doubt Sound Transit would allow parking under it. It would probably end up fenced off. If it doesn’t attract undesirable activities under it, it will certainly attract garbage and weeds.

    I could understand the people in the area demanding a landscaped berm or an attractive retaining wall or no retaining wall, but it boggles my mind that people are fixated on a post and beam structure.

    1. Yeah, that was my reaction too. Post and beam is a recipe for ugly. Even Victorian arch construction — which could be filled with small businesses — usually ends up being filled with ugly wire fences or plywood boarding; post-and-beam will be guaranteed to be filled that way if it doesn’t just become trash-and-weeds.

      Landscaped sloping sides or attractive retaining wall are clearly the way to go.

      1. A viaduct also has the danger of being a magnet for transients, drug dealing, and prostitution. Sort of like the area under the Alaska Way Viaduct between Pine and Battery was before much of it was fenced off. Heck there are still problems in the area where the Viaduct crosses Elliot and Western, it is hardly a nice area to walk through. While a single track rail viaduct isn’t nearly as large it has the potential to be a rather negative element in the area. There are already problems due to the large I-705 viaduct.

      1. So perhaps they could articulate that, instead of all these other arguments that apparently aren’t the issue they’re arguing for?

  9. A couple of points to add to the discussion.
    1. I lived 3 blocks from the Kent Sounder station for many years. The single family neighborhood is about the same, but retail around the station soared, along with the traffic (train and car), and the noise levels. When the theater built their block wall adjacent to the tracks, the Easthill residents were greeted to twice the percieved noise, at all hours of the day and night, because of the echo.
    Now, the elevated Tacoma line will surely produce an abundance of train noise for many blocks around it, and an earthen berm provides two benefits for future mitigation. Noise walls (ala every freeway around here) can be installed, and vegitation is both a noise noise and visual barrier. Adding noise walls and trees to an elevated structure is …’problematic’.
    2. A half mile earthen berm doesn’t have to be continuous. Peds and bikes don’t need much in the way for several portals under the tracks to be included in the initial structure, thus providing easy access from one side to the other. This isn’t rocket science.

    1. I didn’t even consider the potential for noise walls. Good point, thanks. :)

  10. The post and beam proponents claim it’s more pedestrian friendly than the enbankment, but if you actually go out and walk the alignment you will see the falicy of this argument. Where is the need to walk under the tracks, and why? Both options would have sidewalks and pedestrain connections at East C, D and A Streets. Between D and A Street, 26th Street is several feet higher than 25th, and no one walks mid block between those streets. Between A and Pacific, the Elephant Car Wash takes up the entire block along 25th, so where is the need to walk under the post and beam there?

    While the post and beam sounds good to some in the abstract, in reality it does not accomplish anything other than add cost, and provide shelter for transients.

    Meritt’s first idead was to put the Sounder extension in an open tunnel but that added hundreds of millions to the cost. Where was the concern about pedestrian connections then?

  11. So, all this debate over a couple blocks worth of track, most of which goes under a freeway interchange? And the founder of this blog doesn’t appear to support expanding transit to an area that is not only very car-centered, but could also devlope TOD around stations just to save 2 blocks of TOD downtown?

    1. It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? Plus, this berm is mostly going to be wide so we can add a second track, as far as I understand it.

  12. A major benefit of a landscaped berm is that it absorbs traffic noise; overpasses tend to amplify/reflect noise.

    I lived near San Carlos CA when they raised the CalTrain railroad line up on a high berm. The final result looked much nicer than the Viaduct to Battery St tunnel overpass in Belltown which I’ve also lived near. It’s just not that hard to put pedestrian passageways through a berm, and because the CalTrain berm was high, they were able to run plenty of roads through it.

  13. You don’t realize how idiotic this sounds:

    These are anti-transit activists drumming up opposition to Sound Transit through typical fear, uncertainty and doubt. They know Pierce County doesn’t have adequate transit service yet, and they know that if Lakewood gets regular rail service, a pretty large group of people will start realizing how useful this is.

    For those of us who actually live in Tacoma and know the activists in question. I know or have heard of just about every Tacoman who has signed the anti-berm petition and your characterization of them as trucked in anti-transit activists is ludicrous. I worked on the RTA campaign in the 90s in Seattle and I definitely believe in transit, but not at the expense of my city. We have had plenty of time to get it right, true, too bad Tacoma is still getting the short end of the stick.

    You may not like the looks of the neighborhood, but the fact is it’s a key part of our downtown. If someone were proposing splitting up downtown Seattle (yes, even the ugly parts) with an impassible earthen berm I think you wouldn’t support it. We like our walkable downtown, it’s something I would think most transit lovers would want to keep.

    You may not agree with the anti-berm Tacomans, but don’t disregard our care for our city or try to pass us off as shills.

    1. If ST decides to build an elevated structure, the anti-pier people will come out in force. They’ll complain that it’s ugly, too industrial, and costs more than a berm.

      I have a hard time imagining >500 feet of berm is going to completly ruin the walkability of Tacoma considering all the benefits that the Sounder will bring to residents on the south end. The Link removed dozens of crosswalks along MLK, but ST mitigated that with better sidewalks, lighting, and signaled crosswalks. ST won’t and can’t leave people completly high and dry. ST will mitigate either a guideway or berm’s ped destruction in some fashon or another.

      Buildings can build around the berm or guideway. And I warn you, an elevated rail guideway will be rather massive compared to the Links slender guideway considering real trains weigh much more than light rail vehicles.

      Honestly, what in the hell do you people WANT?! Give us a reasonable solution!

    2. You gotta love the “citizen participation,” years after the public meetings occurred.

      If Dome District folks weren’t so obsessed with preserving parking, I might consider TacomaMamma’s comments more credible.

      And for the record, those “native” Tacoma residents could care less about (what they percieve as) backwater Lakewood – a city which has paid their fair share of taxes for a train which has not yet reached them…

    3. You have indeed had plenty of time to get it right. You had that time years ago. You didn’t take it then, don’t think you can drag this out again now.

    4. I have a hard time believing a few hundred feet of berm with crossings at all of the major streets is going to kill downtown Tacoma or even the Dome district. The area that will be separated by the berm is already an isolated pocket with two freeways, an interchange and the downtown end of the Nalley Valley pretty much cutting it off from anything nearby.

  14. You’ve had how many years to get involved? How long ago were the public meetings?

    I’m sorry, but nobody’s even demonstrated that this new idea is any better. I don’t see much difference between an embankment and columns. The track will be at the same height, the same number of trains will run.

    The way this has been presented so far is absolutely textboook anti-transit shilling.

    1. Good letter out of Puyallup in the TNT today:

      The progress of Sound Transit projects in this area staggers the imagination at times. Sometimes it is amazing that they get anything done at all.

      When Sound Transit holds its open houses to discuss future plans, and I’ve been to several of them, only a handful of people show up.

      Once plans have been finalized, that’s when all of the detractors come out of the proverbial woodwork. Sound Transit is then required to spend a vast amount of time and resources in order to get started on the project that was discussed with the public months, sometimes years, before.

      Citizens then complain that Sound Transit is not receptive to opinions about how these critical projects should be completed. Even better are the complaints that Sound Transit never gets projects done on time and on budget.

      1. Sound Transit needs say “We held meetings but you never came. We sent out mailings, but you never called us. We have a website, but you never check it. We put out news paper ads, but you never read them. No, we’re not listening to you. We’ve started designing it. You had your chance to say something already but you didn’t. Tough.”

        It’s costing the region tons of money and years of progress.

      2. i.e. “You were quite entitled to make suggestions or protests at the appropriate time.”

      3. Sure, that’s a great way to pass the next ballot issue.

        As long as Sound Transit relies on public money, it’s going to have to deal with public input, even if the public doesn’t jump in line with ST’s schedule. Don’t like it? Find a less-democratic part of the world to live in.

      4. A democracy is where you elect leaders to make these decisions on your behalf. This is death by committee, and it’s exactly why it has become so exorbitantly expensive to complete any of these necessary public projects. If it takes ten years to reach a compromise on one mile of commuter rail, how is HSR ever going to get built in our lifetimes? They’ll probably have transporter technology working before the HSR community outreach meetings are finished.

      5. A democracy is where you elect leaders to make these decisions on your behalf.

        Actually that is a republic, we don’t live in a democracy.

    2. The berm is the better solution — more attractive, less noise, and fewer hiding places where illegal activity can occur (and the area around FHS has lots of this). On top of that, neither solution has any appreciable impact on walkability and they both follow the same route and are the same height.

      Opposition to the berm is simply rooted in a deep seated Tacoma inferiority complex. They look at Seattle getting a tunnel for Hwy 99 and ask, “Where’s our tunnel?” “How come we aren’t being treated the same?”

      Well….if they really want to be treated like a big-time King County city, then they should step up to the plate and act like one.

      1) Bellevue wants a Link tunnel but is getting a surface route. They’ll need to pony up the cash if they want their tunnel – cost? Several hundreds of millions.

      2) Seattle wants a tunnel for Hwy 99 and is going to pony up $1B. On top of that, they are on the hook for cost overruns on the state portion of the project.

      So, yes, if Tacoma wants a tunnel then they should pony up the extra cash and pay for it. And oh yes, if there are any cost overruns on this ST tunnel project then Tacoma should pay for them to.

      I bet if you look at how the Pierce County legislators voted on the viaduct replacement you will see that they voted to have Seattle pay for the cost overruns. So it’s Tacoma’s turn now – time to step up, open your purse, and get exactly what you want.


  15. This has got to be one of the funniest threads in the history of ever. Tacoma? Yeah, that’s right, look for development down in that flat (ok, gently tilted, quibblers) part filled with parking lots and empty buildings. Just let UW-Tacoma and those classic buildings downtown take care of themselves, that’s worked out great so far.

    Well, that’s life in a small town, everything is mountain, no molehills, and bitter memories are being created that will serve their owners for a lifetime. Not quite as good as having stuff go on all around you, but it will have to do.

    Fun fact about Tacoma- there’s a model railroad store there in an old Ben Franklin. I know most of you are so young you’re going “What is a Ben Franklin”, and that’s the kind of town Tacoma is. Some really incredible older stuff there, but in the Freighthouse District, not so much.

  16. I’ve looked at the publicly available info on the Sound Transit site, and to look at that you would think they were overlaying a transit system atop a completely sterile, street-less community. There’s no mention of the actual design of the extension, so it’s no surprise it’s taken a while for the outcry to reach a certain volume. (Although I’ve been hearing about this for over a year now.)

    Since you don’t actually live here I suppose I can forgive your ignorance if not your tone, but if you were a Tacoman who takes transit you would know that the Sounder actually does pretty little for us. It makes 7 commute trips each way every week day, and two reverse commute trips, taking a long detour through the ‘burbs of Puyallup and Sumner in the process. It’s not useful for anyone with anything but the most straightforward commute schedule, and is mostly out of the question due to the increase in commute time for anyone with the misfortune to commute to the East side.

    We have Sound Transit express buses which run to downtown, but none which go to Bellevue or Redmond. Meaning, if you need to do the Tacoma-Redmond commute via transit you have to go all the way to Downtown Seattle first.

    It’s pretty obvious that Sound Transit hasn’t designed regional transit systems with Tacoma’s needs at the forefront. (Though yes, I imagine Puyallup is happy they rated a rail station.)

    Many of the people who oppose the berm are the same people raising a daily ruckus about removing Tacoma’s parking requirements for businesses, so I’m not sure what the comment about those dome district people and their precious parking is all about. (If there’s one thing the dome district has at present, it’s plentiful parking.)

    I’m sorry you don’t think I’m “credible” but I actually do live here, I follow local blogs and activism, and I take transit. (Would take it more if it went anywhere I needed to go.) Please stop talking about Tacoma as if we can’t read and won’t notice you are being insulting.

    1. Meaning, if you need to do the Tacoma-Redmond commute via transit you have to go all the way to Downtown Seattle first.

      Or, you could take the Sounder to Kent and the 564/565 on to Bellevue or Redmond. No need to go through Downtown Seattle.

      And those 7 trains cover a three-hour span. How “unstraightforward” of a commute are we talking about?

      Sound Transit didn’t “design” the location of the BNSF tracks. With the amount of revenue Pierce County generates it was the only way you were getting train service for a few decades.

      1. That still leaves you with a half hour connection through Kent to the Bellevue Transit Center, and then another bus to get you to your final destination. I’ not sure there’s any net gain in terms of time. Is there a way to get to a Microsoft campus without taking three separate buses/trains, or going through downtown Seattle? (which is still two at a minimum) I’d love to know, actually.

        Sound Transit is designing this extension, which means they have the opportunity to do right by Tacoma or do it in the cheapest possible way, never mind the consequences. Tacoma already has deep divisions between the East Side neighborhoods, South Side neighborhoods, and downtown and the North end. A physical and visual barrier is not going to help.

      2. If you live in Tacoma you simply aren’t going to get a “one seat” trip to some suburban business on the outskirts of Redmond. But to the MS Campus? You might have a good shot at a “two seat” trip, but your best bet would probably be a transfer in DT Seattle. Meaning you might have to swallow your pride and step up to actually transferring through Seattle proper. Oh, The Horror….

        Face it, from where you live you simply aren’t going to have a perfect commute to everywhere in King County — but that is because of where you live and not because ST doesn’t have Tacoma’s needs at the “forefront” of their planning. It’s economics, which is why a lot of people live down that way and commute up this way anyhow.

        And BTW, ST isn’t proposing the cheapest possible solution — not by a long shot. And if you have problems with pre-existing divisions between Tacoma neighborhoods, don’t blame ST, they are “pre-existing.”

      3. Yeah, it’s totally a “pride” thing, not dislike of a three hour commute that leads me to complain about transferring through downtown Seattle. There are about a quarter million of us down here, it’s not bad economics to improve our access to living wage jobs. (In fact if anything it would be a tremendous economic stimulus.)

      4. There’s one way to fix your commute, move closer to your job or get a job closer to home. I don’t think anybody should expect a 50 mile commute to be easy or straightforward.

      5. If Bellevue and Redmond weren’t suburban hell (with a huge price tag to boot) I might consider it. It’s not even really an option, neither is the prospect of squeezing my family into whatever we could afford in Seattle and still having a big commute mess to deal with.

        Get a job closer to home? You can’t get a job that doesn’t exist. Tacoma’s got great neighborhoods, (which were originally built around a streetcar system and are still laid out well for transit) nice early 20th century craftsmen homes built close enough together to actually get to know your neighbors, schools you can walk to, and a thriving cultural scene. Unfortunately, the one big thing it lacks is jobs. If the employers won’t locate here, the people have to get to the employers, which they are doing right now but via cars trucks and SUVs rather than transit. Your opinion of their commute won’t change the fact that tens of thousands of people continue to drive that route every day in single occupancy vehicles.

      6. As someone explained before, you can take Sounder and transfer at Kent to the 564 or 565 and make it from Tacoma to Microsoft in 1.5 hours. I’d say that’s pretty good access to your job considering the two are 50 miles apart. That’s the same amount of time that my commute takes and I live in the same county as my job. How much more convenient does it need to be?

      7. Service to a large extent is going to follow demand. Show Sound Transit there is a demand for direct Tacoma to Overlake service (there is a South Hill to Overlake bus). Even if the demand is there it doesn’t mean there aren’t higher demand and higher priority routes that will get funded first.

      8. I plugged the trip into the Sound Transit Trip planner and no matter how I manipulate the choices I get an approximately 2 hour 10 minute trip with a train plus 2 buses. That’s if all connections are made on time. This for a trip that takes 50 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes depending on traffic, without using the car pool lane. Run a couple of express buses and it *will* take cars off the road.

        How would we demonstrate demand, exactly? A good 100,000 people travel outside of Pierce County for work and about 9,000 of those people work in the tech sector. When Sound Transit added more runs to the U District those buses filled up immediately, as does pretty much every express line they add. I don’t think the problem is lack of demand but the simple fact that our transit needs are just not a priority.

      9. Of course your transit needs are a priority, it’s not an us vs. them argument. Sound Transit has sub-area equity, this means that money raised in Pierce County is spent in Pierce County. If their is a demonstrated need for a bus route and the money to support it, there is a good chance it will be implemented. If you know there are a lot of people who would take a particular route you should try to gather that information and bring it to the Sound Transit meetings when they are planning new service. Believe it or not, they are receptive to public input, especially when it is constructive.

        I don’t know how old you are, but if you’d look at what service was available in Pierce County before ST you’d be amazed at how much better it is today. I used to have to travel from Tacoma to Bellevue by bus in the early 90’s. If I had to make the trip at any time other than rush hour I would have to take a local bus from Tacoma to Federal Way, transfer to another local bus to Seattle, and then another local bus to Bellevue. The entire trip would take the better part of a day.

        As far as your commute to Microsoft, I’m not sure what the trip planner is telling you or what time you go to work, but for example you can catch the 8:00 Sounder in Tacoma, transfer to the 564 at Kent Station at 8:44 and be at Overlake at 9:30. Or if you go earlier you can catch the 6:00 Sounder and be at Overlake by 7:30. I think thats about as competitive with the car as transit will get, until this region gets much denser.

        Here is the 564/565 schedule:

        and the Sounder schedule:

      10. I think this is some $50m more expensive than the cheapest possible solution.

      11. The 564/565 go through Bellevue and on to Redmond/Microsoft, so it is a 2 seat ride to either DT Bellevue or there.

  17. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself. In the upper right, Freighthouse Square, where Sounder currently terminates. In the lower left, the curve of the old railway to be reused.

    I’m still having a hard time envisioning the route and what part is going to be berm. I’m also confused about the reference to FHS. Are we talking Foss High School? If so I don’t see how the line goes anywhere near it?

    Are there plans to include a walking/biking trail along the ROW. If not that would be my only objection.

    1. Freighthouse Square.

      There really isn’t space for a walking/biking trail on the elevated structure, no. But there are streets right around it.

      1. They’re making it wide enough to accomodate a second main line in the future but they can’t squeeze in a bike path? If you don’t like riding through Bellevue never try riding from Lakewood to Tacoma! Seems like some gravel a fence/barrier and a couple of pedestrian overpasses if you want the deluxe version and viola!

      2. Some of the streets in this area don’t even have sidewalks, or at least don’t have sidewalks on both sides. Why would anyone expect ST to go to all the expense of building an elevated bikeway when the city of Tacoma hasn’t even put in sidewalks yet along streets that supposedly support a “neighborhood”? This is all rather silly.

        There won’t be an elevated bikepath atop the berm.

      3. So, building only to Overlake is a fine so that we can do it right but for Tacoma just slap it in and call it good. Same for RV. Pretty selective on where it makes sense to do it on the cheap in order to finish a connection.

      4. We’re not building a bike path to Overlake. I don’t understand why you even think there’s demand for a cycle path here.

      5. $150 million is cheap?

        And Bernie, there is absolutely no need for a bicycle path there. There are 2 streets running parallel to the tracks 1/2 block on either side with very little traffic. Take a drive down there sometime and take a look.

      6. It’s not the Dome Dist that I’m thinking about it’s the connection to Lakewood. Show me a route into the City that’s bike friendly other than perhaps Ruston way. Don’t need to take a drive down there. Grew up in Lakewood and went to Bellarmine..

      7. Ben, there already is a bike path to Overlake. Again, it seems a bit af a double standard.

      8. It looks like there is some sort of bike path planned along the old ROW from Pacific through the UW Tacoma campus. I’m not sure if this continues alongside the tracks to South Tacoma and Lakewood though. I would agree that is a useful bike route. I don’t think the few-block section in contention really needs a bike path though.

      9. Bernie,

        It’s not ST’s problem to turn Tacoma into a bike-friendly city. If you want better/more bike lanes in Tacoma, then go talk to the Tacoma city government — they are the ones in charge.

        It’s simply not in ST’s charter to convert Tacoma into a bike friendly city, and putting a bike lane a top an elevated berm/viaduct makes no ecnoomic sense, not to mention that it makes no sense from a biking POV either.

  18. I created a google map of the area in contention:

    click on the placemarks to see a rendering of the overpasses.

    Currently, there is a wildlife corridor in the B Street gulch area, I took some pictures of that:

    You can see more detailed drawings of the berm and the proposed post and beam structure here:

    Includes far more detail than anything Sound Transit provides on their website.

  19. Wow, I thought this article was naive and provincial until I started reading some of these comments that agree with it!

    First, a big FU from Tacoma. Great, glad we got that out of the way.

    There are so many off-base statements in the article and in the comments that I don’t know where to begin, and I don’t want to write a huge rebuttal. I’m not even an expert on this subject and I can see the falsehoods. This is a great source for those interested in actually learning about the subject: And these are not crazies or anti-transit people — quite the opposite.

    A few comments:

    It’s BS to say we’ve had quite long enough. It isn’t Tacoma’s fault that Sound Transit is a decade late on their promise to Lakewood and it isn’t Tacoma’s duty to make quite-permanent sacrifices to make up for that. This fight against the berm has gone on ever since Sound Transit announced the plan.

    Yes, our elected leaders and reps on the Sound Transit board have let us down on this matter. That’s fair enough.

    Several comments referenced the cost. Well, this is a $150+ million project. Sound Transit’s engineers have estimated the cost of post-and-beam construction to add $0.5-1 million. Big deal. A month ago Sound Transit inflated that cost to $2 million, and last week they started calling it $4 million. I don’t know what’s up with this rapid inflation but it’s still a small deal. Now add to that the cost of potential lost development (lost tax revenue) because the berm eats up more developable land. Now add to that the cost of maintaining the ground so it doesn’t get all weedy, which Sound Transit has said is the city’s responsibility, not theirs. What’s more expensive now?

    While it’s true that this land isn’t super valuable or utilized now, it’s silly to pretend it will always be that way. Tacoma’s downtown isn’t exactly huge and future expansion will head into that area sooner or later (probably sooner given various development plans already in the works, headlined by the LeMay Car Museum).

    Ultimately, Sound Transit is willing to hear but not listen, and it’s clear that they couldn’t care less about what the people of Tacoma really want. They are already having image perception problems down here and it’s baffling that they are unwilling to turn the tide on that trend for a few million dollars.

    1. headlined by the LeMay Car Museum

      Cool! I wondered what was going to become of that collect after Mr. LeMay passed away. Going out the yearly weekend open house was one of my favorite things to do down that way.

    2. Don’t you find it the least bit ironic that ST got into this mess by trying to improve the connection? They could have just rebuilt the tracks at-grade that have been there for over a hundred years, saved $100 million of Pierce County tax dollars and had the connection built years ago.

      It seems like it is a couple of developers and one outspoken architect are driving the “outcry” over the berm. Maybe you should look into what their motivations are before jumping on the “post and beam” bandwagon. Is there any proof behind the rhetoric that a 4 block long berm, most of which goes under an elevated freeway, will forever ruin the neighborhood? I spent a lot of time in Tacoma as a kid, and the changes in downtown since then have amazed me, but the area where the tracks are going to be built hardly seem like prime real estate. There are countless parcels in the Dome District and west of I-705 that can be redeveloped and will be completely unharmed by this project. And any construction company could shore up the berm if or when those parcels are developed, it’s no different than building on a hillside lot.

      1. As one of those Tacoma residents preferring the post and beam, a few points:

        I am very, very pro-transit. I lived in Chicago and New York and was astonished when moving here in 1984 that there was no rapid transit to Seattle! (That has improved, but not by enough.)

        Although I’m not sure of the exact process that went on, the change from an “at grade” crossing at Pacific was not just “because Tacoma wanted it”. Apparently, the trains wouldn’t have been able to make it up the hill to meet the tracks south of Pacific. It HAD to be elevated. Since that decision was only made a year or so back, the plans for the elevated part haven’t been available for that long. (Again, I don’t have the exact timeline here, but it should be a part of public record and I haven’t heard that mentioned in the discussion so far.)

        Tacoma has made lots of improvements downtown over the last few decades but some of us think it has been at the expense of the neighborhoods. We are trying to shift more of the focus to walkable, safe, convenient neighborhoods. That’s going to take a while but development often lags behind consciousness. What will help a lot will be local developers who actually care about the community. We have several of those and I’ve met some at the meetings opposing the berm. And planning residential and shopping hubs in the Dome District with all the transit options there is a no-brainer.

        As for Lakewood, I DO care about their community, too. And I’ll support them if Sound Transit wants to extend south of their town and doesn’t take into consideration what those citizens want.

      2. Did you read my new post about why the post and beam would add much, much more expense later, without really solving the wide ‘tunnel’ issue?

      3. The decision to elevate the line somehow was made many years back — not a year or so back.

      4. The decision to bring the elevate the Pacific Ave crossing (which is the area in question) was made in late 2007. Public design review didn’t begin until late 2008.

    3. If the extra $4M or so (or whatever it ends up being) is such a small deal, then are you willing to advocate for the city of Tacoma picking up the tab?

      After all, the city of Bellevue is considering a several $100M tab for a tunnel and they a smaller city. And the city of Seattle is going to contribute $1B towards the viaduct tunnel, plus they will cover overruns. What is Tacoma willing to contribute?

      So what do you say? Tacoma covers the added cost plus overruns, and ST can wash their hands of the design implications?

      Of course the post and beam is a worse solution for Tacoma, but having Tacoma pay the cost difference would at least allow ST to move on with an important regional (and State) project.

  20. The berm is roughly from S. Tacoma Way to I-705 along 26th with crossings at A, C, and Pacific. ST should have some project docs somewhere.

    FHS = Freight House Square. Site of the current Tacoma Sounder station and a potential future Amtrak station.

    The pedestrian plans for the area I believe are in the ST docs on the project.

    1. Thanks! I poked around the ST site and couldn’t find the EIS from the links or even so much as a map of the routing. I guess I need to google for it. It sounds like one of the big reasons for the berm is so that rail can be elevated over Pacific. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the road to go over the train tracks? (or under, as in retained cut with the possibility to add a lid) Hard to imaging this berm really being necessary if they’re following a ROW that was put in 100 years ago. Was it a logging line that only ran Shays?

  21. Wow Ben. This kind of a post is a perfect example of Seattle painting Tacoma with a very broad brush. I hope it’s not your intent to piss off a lot of transit supporters down here – kind of like how Ron Sims wanted to eliminate any prospect of Central Link getting down to Tacoma (which is another issue entirely).

    This kind of crap from Seattlites and the Seattle media, who only send reporters down to the courthouse to cover the latest high profile case, just drives us nuts. There are people down here who give a shit about decent transit and dense urban development. The only reason why Council upzoned our mixed use centers is because of the strong movement that pushed them to do so. It’s also another reason why every prominent candidate who is running for Mayor and City Council in Tacoma supports the restoration of our streetcar network.

    To get to Sounder and HSR:

    The Point Defiance Bypass is essential for high speed rail. We all acknowledge that. Hell, the benefits of HSR will actually benefit Tacoma more than Seattle in relation to the time it takes to get to Portland. All these people are saying is that “we’re up to here with crummy urban design and we don’t want to take it anymore.” Surely you can empathize with that.

    I know it’s late in the game and people should have spoken up sooner, but even with the existing design, we need additional money to complete the project. There’s a chance this could be redesigned in the amount of time it takes to find the money. I know I’m being optimistic.

    At the very least we don’t deserve the kind of disrespect Tacomans have taken in the past.

    1. The post and beam structure would add tens of millions to phase 2 of the Point Defiance Bypass project. I’ve just realized that today – that’s why the berm was chosen, it provides space for the second track.

      1. And post and bean is a worse solution for the neighborhood. Louder, more crime, and less oportunity to mitigate the visual impacts.

  22. With all the talk of HSR lately it seems like the state needs to get involved with this project at this point. Neither one of the proposed solutions supports more than one track into Tacoma, and that just won’t serve the needs of any serious HSR proposal. They should work on designing and building a two-track connection to support a future increase in passenger trains. If they don’t do it now they’ll just have to re-build the damn thing and we’ll be going through this all over again. How about a nice 2-track arched viaduct from D street to C street, would that make everyone happy?

    Something like this?

    or this ?

    1. The berm supports a second track with minimal work – new bridges would have to be added, but I think that’s why it was chosen.

      The state IS involved with the project.

      1. I should have said “more” involved. I know they’re involved, but it seems like they’re letting ST take all the heat for a project that has statewide significance. But I guess with the state’s recent treatment of rail projects it shouldn’t be a surprise that they don’t really care.

      2. Fair enough. I don’t know whether they care much or not – I believe that some of the urban rail division was laid off during state budget cuts, though. Maybe they don’t have anyone in outreach now?

  23. It is not true that Tacoma has been silent up until now, we’ve only just managed to get the ball rolling on press. Community groups have been active in this process since at least 2006 (that’s as far as the google way back machine will take me in a cursory search) at times in a very clear and cogent way.

    Take for example this memo, posted to the Tacoma Business Improvement Association Blog in November of last year:

    There are many more examples.

    1. I don’t see anything about the latest issue in there. The berm was the accepted solution from 2005…

      1. ST’s own minutes of the meeting, attached to that memo, say the berm decision had not been made yet, that they were still figuring out the design of the elevated segment.

        The citizen input reflected in those draft minutes, and in the citizen corrections to the minutes, certainly suggest that there was active opposition to ST’s design proposal at that time.

        If you’ve really read the memo and don’t see anthing about the berm issue, I suggest you’re reading it with blinders on.

        The public record makes it clear the berm was not a settled issue, even if some chose to see it that way, and that Tacoma residents have indeed been voicing opposition to it for some time.

        I have no personal stake in this, my family hasn’t lived in Tacoma in generations. My own inclination would be for a berm with mutliple well-designed underpasses to maintain pedestrian and bike connectivity throughout the existing street grid — a low rail viaduct is truly an ugly, noisy thing. But it’s not my city, and it’s not my decision.

      2. Design work is almost always ongoing as these projects go through several design phases before construction is completed. And during the early design phases several alternatives are also under some level of design, but the elevated earthen berm has been the “preferred alternative” since about 2005.

      3. The decision to go with a grade separated solution wasn’t officially made until late 2007 and public input into the design wasn’t sought until late 2008. (At which time it was still pretty vague) Please stop repeating that 2005 date, because it’s just wrong.

  24. Ben also forgot the wooden boat museum that opened recently down on Foss inlet.

    But really I agree with the Tacoma natives, Ben, you are way over the top with this editorial. I can understand your complaints about Tacoma wanting to build a more expensive Post and beam but the way you put forward your arguments just makes you sound like a Seattle zealot. Tacoma has the potential to be a very livable city and in the last 10 years has done a lot of very nice downtown redevelopment to make it so.

  25. Your tone of voice has made this quite unpleasant to read through.
    “It’s not a neighborhood any more than Aurora at 175th is a neighborhood”: The Dome District has all major transportation hubs. It is within easy walking distance of attractions downtown, UW, museums, the Foss waterway promenade and parks. It is the hub for the first human powered watercraft dock in town. This is the exact neighborhood most cities have the greatest density; it is the best case scenario for it. To ruin the future of density here has repercussions for sprawl, loss of farmland and living quality in the city of Tacoma.
    “In six years during the largest construction boom in our lifetimes, we saw zero in that area. There aren’t even complete sidewalks”: You obviously have not noticed the D-Street overpass, development along Puyallup Ave, the new bike shop, the galleries. People are working as they can. The last boom has caused a lot of heart ache in towns now littered with foreclosures. It is okay to go slow.
    “I’m sorry, but nobody’s even demonstrated that this new idea is any better”: for people who try to listen, the reasons are there. I have yet to hear from you or ST why the berm is better, other than you could not care less about Tacoma and, off course, money and time. ST is ten years behind without any help from us, thank you. Current estimates run at a million or two post and beam versus berm. How much did you guys spend on the light rail opening in Seattle? Perhaps it is the hangover from that party that made you grumpy.
    And here finally you are listening: “Yes. It’s probably true that the viaduct would be better in the long run.” Hurry up and built the berm, we can always take it down later? And you are thinking we are the ones wasting money? ST should have urban planners that have a vision of the future and an idea of density. I lived in metropolitan areas in Europe and the States. I have chosen Tacoma to live because it is not pretentious and glitzy and because I love the people. Your talking down to us has not illuminated anything but your own state of mind.

    1. First let me say that I don’t care what gets built, I haven’t lived in Pierce county for years. What I do wish is that both sides would tone down the rhetoric and work to quickly find a solution that everyone can agree on, this project affects a lot more people than just the Dome District developers. What I also wish is that people in Tacoma would quit framing it as a “us vs. them” argument. Sound Transit has sub-area equity, it is your money. The money was raised in Pierce County and will be spent in Pierce County and every extra dollar spent on this project is a dollar that can’t be spent on actually providing transit services. Conversely, all of the money spent in Seattle was raised here and the expense of projects here does not take a dime away from any project in Tacoma.

      I’ve read all of the blogs and various websites on this issue, but I still can’t figure out how the berm is going to ruin the development potential of the entire neighborhood. It seems like the highest part of the berm is directly under the I-705 viaduct and the part of the berm in the actual Dome District is only a few feet high. I’d like to take the side of the citizens in this case, but I can’t seem to find any real information, just a lot of rhetoric. Could you point me to some decent information? Thanks.

  26. Ben:”These are anti-transit activists drumming up opposition to Sound Transit through typical fear, uncertainty and doubt.”
    Zed: “What I also wish is that people in Tacoma would quit framing it as a “us vs. them” argument.”
    We are working to support a neighborhood AND have decent transit. We do not have a ‘versus Seattle’ attitude; we have a pro Tacoma attitude. Beginning your arguments with ‘shut up and take it’ pretty much voids everything after.

    1. From your own website:

      “Or else they’ll take their rails and trains and go home to Seattle.”

      “Anyone who has ridden the Seattle LINK segments can see how much was spent to make those neighborhoods better. Seattle politicians also assured that millions more were spent on nontransit economic and social programs to buy off opposition in the Rainier Valley. But when Tacoma residents ask for a design that won’t damage the Dome District, they’re told to take a hike.”

      1. Do It Right Tacoma is not anti Seattle, or anti transit – no matter how many times you declare otherwise. Are you surprised folks get pissed by some of the trash on this blog?

      2. I wasn’t implying that you personally were anti-Seattle, if you’d read my comment you’d see that. But since you chose to quote me out of context I thought I’d do the same for you. I’ve read a lot of the public commentary on this project and the fact is that a lot of people involved have framed this as “Tacoma vs. Seattle” debate instead of actually focusing on the merits of one design versus the other. You yourself brought up how much money was spent on the light rail opening, as if it has anything to do with this project, and I was trying to explain to you why money spent in Seattle has no impact whatsoever on projects in Tacoma.

        Both designs have their downsides, the post-and-beam is far from a perfect solution either. But unfortunately the design that wins will probably be the result of who can scream the loudest instead of what design actually works best for all the parties involved.

      3. This blog opened with Seattle versus Tacoma, and with a crap load of insults thrown at Tacoma neighborhood organizers. I do agree with you that money spent on the Seattle party has no impact on the Tacoma project. It does show that Seattle’s Transit blog’s main argument of wasting money because of us asking for smart, future oriented transit is ridiculous, for the very same reason. Seattle has got nothing to loose, so why the fuss?

      4. Claudia,

        Despite the name, this blog’s scope is the greater Seattle area, which includes Tacoma. While we don’t always succeed, our intent is to take a regional perspective. Although Ben was somewhat more inflammatory than he need have been (and apologized for it in his next post), his concern is for people using Sounder and Amtrak, particularly, in this case, people living in Lakewood.

        And there’s no support for your claim that the post began with “Seattle versus Tacoma.” The only reference to Seattle at all was that Central Link was built in the time this argument has been going on.

      5. ST is years behind without our doing. To say the delay is caused by us is BS. The berm option easily can run into major delays when trying to relocate underground utilities and redoing culverts for storm and salmon. It will also preempt the undergrounding of power and cable in the future. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of trees falling into power lines and of the whole place looking like it is a third word county. Plain obvious is also that the berm will cut the neighborhood in half and no neighborhood in Tacoma, Lakewood, Renton, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond or White Center would be asked to deal with this and shut up. In Europe, they would not consider berming through an urban area, because land is too valuable. Until we realize the value of land, we will continue to loose developable land and in turn also farm and forest land.

  27. Ben being a blinkered idiot with no feel for regions outside of Redmond/Capitol Hill?

    Color me surprised.

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